FORMER New Zealand rugby star Zinzan Brooke put youngsters from Park House School through their paces as he hosted a training session on Tuesday.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest number eights ever to grace the game, Mr Brooke played in 58 internationals for the All Blacks in a career spanning 11 years, and was a member of the 1987 World Cup-winning team.
In preparation for his arrival, Year 10 pupils spent five weeks perfecting a Haka – the famous ancestral Maori challenge – and performed it in front of him.
Mr Brooke was then given a tour of the school by headteacher Derek Peaple before meeting stars of the school’s rugby team, Carys Cox, 16, and Cara Brincat, 15.
Before holding a training session with pupils, the rugby star was also given a framed picture of himself playing for New Zealand, drawn by former Park House pupil Alice Chambers.
Mr Brooke was at the school as trustee of a charity called OK – Our Kids – that works with educational establishments to promote children’s safety.
Mr Brooke said: “I am delighted that I have come to an English school and the pupils have embraced me by performing the Haka.”
As for the recent Six Nations rugby tournament, he said that it was the perfect exhibition of how to promote rugby.
“You just need to replay the last day again – it was fantastic with Wales beating Italy in the manner they did and then Ireland beating Scotland meant England had to take risks and play an expansive game against the French. England very nearly did it, but just fell short in the end.
“It was the closest of finishes.”
Asked whether he thought England had a chance of winning the 2015 World Cup on home soil, Mr Brooke said: “Everyone has got a chance but England have a tough group.
“Australia are a very different side to how they were and they will be dangerous.
“Wales will also be a tough game and although England beat them at the Millennium Stadium in the Six Nations, it could be a bit of a banana skin.
“It will be a dogfight between England and Wales as to who goes through.
“New Zealand have to be one of the favourites, again, based on the fact they are reigning champions and for the last four years, barring a few slip ups, have been unplayable.”
Now 50 and living in Berkshire, Mr Brooke still plays amateur rugby for Windsor Rugby Club, but admitted that he missed playing at the highest level.
“I really miss the big stage, it is the best place to play and gives you the best feeling,” he said. “You have the atmosphere and the support, it is just fantastic.”